FAYETTEVILLE — Mike Anderson’s first two Arkansas teams leaned heavily on guard play with an influx of smaller players carrying the load for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas didn’t have much size in the frontcourt. There wasn’t adequate depth, either, and it plagued teams that failed to reach the postseason.
But Anderson is confident those issues have been adequately addressed.
“I think the strength of our team right now, if you look at it, will be our forwards,” Anderson said Thursday. “I think our skilled forwards are really plentiful.
“I think that’s going to be important for our basketball team.”
Arkansas, which held its annual media day on Thursday, is optimistic its added size will be an advantage when the Razorbacks open the 2013-14 season against SIU-Edwardsville on Nov. 8. There’s no doubt there are more options in the frontcourt than last season, when Coty Clarke, Marshawn Powell and Hunter Mickelson handled most of the duties in the paint through the teeth of the schedule.
Powell has moved on to professional basketball and Mickelson has transferred to Kansas. The 6-foot-7 Clarke is back as the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, and is joined by sophomore Jacorey Williams (6-8). But the returning players should have plenty of help on a retooled roster that added size with Alandise Harris (6-6), Bobby Portis (6-9) and Moses Kingsley (6-9).
“I think we’re a pretty big team,” Portis said. “And we’re a big physical team.”
Portis is the most decorated new addition after earning McDonald’s All-America honors while at Little Rock Hall High. He’s the first McDonald’s All American on Arkansas’ roster since guard Olu Famutimi in 2003 and said playing for the Razorbacks will fulfill his lifelong dream.
Anderson has said several times in the past few months Portis shouldn’t be characterized as the “savior” of a program that has struggled much of the past decade. But he also added the past few weeks of practices is proving Portis is certainly talented enough to make a big impact right away.
“I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with what this guy brings to the table,” Anderson said. “He’s got a motor. His skill level is exceptional. I think he’s going to go at his pace, but if you talk to or listen to Bobby, he wants to be one of the best in the country.”
Harris is another key addition to the frontcourt after sitting out the 2012-13 season because of NCAA transfer rules. He’s not a towering post player at 6-6, but coaches and teammates believe Harris has played much bigger since is arrival last season.
So Harris — who averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds during his sophomore season at Houston — is expected to bring toughness to the frontcourt. Anderson described Harris as a “man,” said he “loves contact” and proves it on a daily basis.
“Alandise Harris will bring a level of toughness that we haven’t had,” Anderson said. “And I think that level of toughness will be displayed not only here, but really on the road. He’s a guy that can you put the ball into him, and he’ll be able to create something for you. I’m looking for him to have a major impact.”
The extra size doesn’t mean Arkansas is transforming into a slow, methodical team.
Anderson said the beauty of his new bigs is that they’re all fluid in the open court, getting up and down the floor with ease. So do Clarke and Williams. It’s a vital trait for the up-tempo system and Anderson believes it will give the Razorbacks some important advantages as they try to get back into the postseason.
“I want to play fast and I think with our skilled forwards, we can do that,” Anderson said. “You will look up and you’ll see Bobby Portis pushing the ball down the floor like he’s a point forward. Alandise can go with it. Coty can go with it. Now it’s going to enable our guys to get out in the lanes and run.”
Harris said he and the rest of the new-look frontcourt can’t wait to get started.
“That’s going to be a great front line,” Harris said. “If I get beat or Bobby gets beat, we’ve always got help. We’ll probably block the shot and go on and start the fast break. So it’s going to be a lot faster game all together because Bobby is running, Moses is running, I’m running. We’re big, athletic and fast.”